How a good idea can be a bad idea

15 January 2011

Army Corps’ solution to flooding along Johnson Creek – “Dude, let’s pave the lower 15 miles!”

As residential and commercial activity increased along Johnson Creek near Portland, Oregon, seasonal flooding resulted in financial impacts that local leaders could no longer tolerate.  In the 1930′s, the Works Progress Administration with help from the Army Corps of Engineers paved the lower 15 miles of banks to speed the water to the Willamette River.  Of course, what it created was a 15 mile long flue that verily zoomed the winter floods through residential zones, occasionally carrying off mattresses, the errant trash of southeast Portlanders, and – now and again – a careless boy or two.

The capacity of a creek to absorb floods, and thereby feed its watershed, was utterly reduced because the Army Corps’ primary goal was to open land for an expanding Portland – if the water in the lower 15 miles moved quickly, the upper creek would not likely breach its banks.  Didn’t quite work out. For a few thousand years, Johnson Creek (or, whatever it was known by in earlier Holocene days) flooded massively through rainy seasons, delivering effluvia downstream to enrich meadows and stream banks for wild life and plants.  Salmon commonly ran, deer and bear flourished.  Once Europeans came in droves in the late 19th century, it all changed.

But hope springs eternal!  In the last 20 years, Friends of Johnson Creek have successfully restored portions of the creek, planting trees, recovering pasture land, breaking apart some of the old paving.  Salmon are back.  It has all come to be because a few people, courageously, realized that the creek’s watershed was unequivocally OneThing.


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